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It was the dogged determination of Wicklow Sailing Club 38 years ago that brought about the beginnings of an event which has since become an internationally-recognised cornerstone in the complex structure of the Irish sailing programme writes W M Nixon. Today, the 20th staging of the biennial 704–mile race around our island home gets underway at 2.0 pm in what is now the time-honoured manner off the Wicklow pierheads. And as it does, we’ll remember those who got it going, and kept it going, so many years ago. And we’ll also remember their successors who have kept it going ever since, through times good and bad.

There’ll be a Naval Service guardship in attendance in proper style to mark the starting line for the Volvo Round Ireland Race 2018, while the characterful little port town will be in full maritime festival mode to celebrate the running of one of world sailing’s most interesting and challenging events.

rambler 2016 start2The Naval Service Guardship is barely visible as George David’s all-conquering Rambler 88 somehow finds her way through to a perfect start at the Volvo Round Ireland Race 2016. Photo: W M Nixon

For although in terms of scale it may seem to be far outshone by the great transoceanic and global-circumnavigating races, for the many amateur crews involved, taking part in this race is a major personal challenge. It’s at their own expense, and uses up at least a week of precious holiday time, while also requiring participation in qualifying events. So for them, this is the Big One. This is the special Race of Races, which hundreds – indeed, thousands - of Irish sailors wish to have in their CVs at least once, and in many cases as often as possible.

It provides a race course which has just about everything. And as with any outdoor sport in Ireland, the weather is significant. In fact, being wind-reliant, the weather is absolutely paramount in importance. So the present circumstances of exceptionally summery weather provide yet another twist to the Round Ireland challenge, as the possibility of relying for progress on developing daytime sea breezes, followed by evening calms before there’s a lighter night breeze off the land, makes it seem to be shaping up - to quote one sage veteran of the race - as potentially the most unusual Round Ireland Race ever staged.

track charts 2016 race3Trackers of round Ireland courses from 2016. Some tactics were a little more desperate than others…

Certainly in every way the outlook is about as different as possible from 2016’s race, when the winds (and sometimes the rain) were more than generous, and records tumbled in the face of onslaughts by giant multi-hulls and George David’s all-conquering silver bullet, the mighty Rambler 88.

In terms of excitement and glamour, that 2016 race reached such heights that the more pessimistic assumed that 2018 would seem a bit of a damp squib by comparison. But you’ll find neither “pessimism” nor “damp squib” in Wicklow Sailing Club’s vocabulary. On the contrary, they’ve simply soldiered on with their usual optimism and determination, and with the support of the Royal Ocean Racing Club together with their growing squad of active supporters at home and abroad, they’ve come up with a fleet for this year’s race which is actually more truly representative of the modern international offshore racing scene than any previous Round Ireland lineup, and is healthily split almost exactly 50/50 between overseas challengers and Irish boats.

wicklow committee4After the outstanding success of the Volvo Round Ireland Race 2016, Wicklow Sailing Club became the Mitsubishi Motors Sailing Club of the Year, with some of the many volunteers who made it possible seen here with the trophy

The entry total has finally settled on 56 boats, reduced by one this week with the sudden withdrawal of the current ISORA Champion, the J/109 Mojito (Vicky Cox & Peter Dunlop) from Pwllheli. While regrettable, it’s put in perspective by acknowledging that Mojito has shown herself eminently beatable by other J/109s, while in last year’s big one, the Dun Laoghaire-Dingle Race, she was well bested by Paul O’Higgins’ JPK 10.80 Rockabill VI (RIYC), whose already strong crew for this year’s Round Ireland already includes Mark Mansfield, class winner in 2016, and has recently been further reinforced by the addition of noted sailor Kieran Tarbett.

Rockabill sailing5With a strong crew, Paul O’Higgins’ JPK 10.80 Rockabill VI (RIYC) hopes to build on her overall success in last year’s Dun Laoghaire to Dingle race. Photo: Afloat.ie

The main IRC fleet ranges in size from a threesome of smaller craft - the two J/97s (Lambay Rules, Stephen Quinn Howth YC) and Windjammer (Lindsay Casey & Denis Power), together with the potent French Sun Fast 3200 (Jean-Francois Nouel) – all the way up to the veteran Swan 65 Desperado of Cowes, while the selection of mostly modern types is remarkable.

However, in the midst of them are some classic veterans which still give a good showing for themselves when well sailed, and one of the stars of the 2017 Fastnet Race, Paul Kavanagh’s 45-year-old Swan 44 Pomeroy Swan, is returning to the land of his ancestors to race around Ireland in the two-handed division under the name of Cooperation Ireland, an organisation which this international businessman holds in such high regard that he is one of its Ambassadors.

pomeroy swan6Paul Kavanagh’s veteran yet successful Swan 44 Pomeroy Swan will be racing two-handed as Cooperation Ireland

As for age, the oldest entry has to be the 1937-built 43ft gaff ketch Maybird (Darryl Hughes, Arklow & Poolbeg). Tyrrell of Arklow-built, she’s a near sister of Billy Mooney’s famous Aideen which won her class in the 1947 Fastnet Race.

By contrast, the newest entry could not be more different, as she’s the very latest Corum from France, a hot new Open 40 which is so fresh out of the wrappers that so far we’ve only been provided with a photo showing her front half out on recent test sails.

Her two-man crew are very worthy of note, being renowned Figaro veteran Nicolas Troussel, with mini-Transat legend Ian Lipinski. And Corum spearheads a very international open 40 involvement with the Round Ireland Race, as their five entries are drawn from Finland, Norway, and the two from France.

corum sailing7Still coming fresh out of the box…..the new Open 40 Corum will be co-skippered by Minitransat legend Ian Lipinski

They will of course be racing as a separate division, and in the main body of the fleet - the healthily-varied IRC classes - the favourite on paper has to be ex-Pat RIYC member Niall Dowling with his Ker 43 Baraka GP. With boat captain Jim Carroll (also RIYC), Baraka is fast in everything in every direction. But by streaking ahead in summery weather, while you may indeed be getting yourself that much sooner into more favourable winds, equally you can be first to sail out of wind altogether, as happened with Anthony O’Leary and his Ker 40 Antix in the 2015 Dingle race (which matches the first half of the Round Ireland course) when Antix lost the overall lead to Liam Shanahan’s J/109 Ruth (NYC) and sister-ship Mojito.

So everything depends not only on being able to read the slowly developing wind patterns correctly, but also being in the optimum location as the new breeze sets in. It ain’t easy. In fact, often it’s totally impossible, but old hands will tell you that the secret as calm threatens is never to lose steerage way, even if it means actually sailing away from your destination

baraka gp8It’s unlikely she’ll experience grey weather like this during the next few days, but Nial Dowling’s Ker 43 Baraka GP will be fast whatever the weather
Baraka GP and other flyers may zoom away from Wicklow this afternoon in the sea breeze-reinforced east to northeast breeze, and they’ll make fine race-winning progress to the Fastnet and beyond. But on present weather predictions, they might then find fresh northerlies out beyond the Blaskets to slow them back in beating conditions, northerlies which may have veered to more favourable east to nor’east breezes by the time the significant group of smaller but very competitive craft such as Rockabill VI and the four J/109s come along to face the challenges of the west coast.

With their performance sharpened by the intense competition that they have in Dublin Bay, the J/109s can never be discounted, but it’s the unusual combination of 1996 overall Michael Boyd (RIYC) on the Kenneth Rumball-prepared J/109 Jedi which is getting special attention, as Boyd was top-placed Irish skipper overall in the 2016 Race, yet the only class win by an Irish boat was the victory by Dave Cullen’s J/109 Euro Car Parks, which had the formidable talents of Mark Mansfield and Maurice “Prof” O’Connell on board.

boyd and shearer9Michael Boyd, top Irish skipper in 2016’s race, and the winner in 1996, is the former Commodore of the RORC, and is seen here in close conversation with former Wicklow SC Commodore (and current Honorary Secretary) Peter Shearer. Photo: W M Nixon
This time around, they’re rivals, with Mansfield very present on Rockabill VI, while the Prof has been giving much of his talent this season to Chris Power Smith’s J/122 Aurelia (RStGYC). Thus as recently as Wednesday this week, the highly-tweaked Aurelia was seen out on Dublin Bay testing her very latest and impressive-looking brand-new North headsails, while her kite sizes have also been maximized. So you can be very sure this is no bog-standard J/122, and some of the wise money might be going Aurelia’s way.

But as the fleet spreads out, and we learn that in Ireland our experience in dealing with the high summer sea breeze effect is rather limited - particularly along the West and North coasts – the sheer spread of boats of genuine potential throughout the fleet at every size may well mean that by some stage at least 25 boats will have had a real chance of being on the podium at the finish.

jedi fastnet10Jedi under the command of Kenneth Rumball of the Irish National Sailing School at the start of the 2017 Fastnet Race, in which she won her class. She will be racing round Ireland today skippered by Michael Boyd.
That’s one of the many fascinations of the Volvo Round Ireland Race. You can as quickly envisage a scenario where Roger Smith’s J/109 Wakey-Wakey (Poolbeg & Dun Laoghaire) can find herself towards the top of the leaderboard, for the word is that she’s going very fast indeed these days, if not always in the most favoured direction.

And then while the huge potential of the JPK 10.80 Rockabill VI is rightly drawing the attention of one of the pre-race favourites, let it not be forgotten that the fleet includes two of her older sisters, the JPK 10.10s Jaasap (Nicolas Pasternak, France) and Jangada (Richard Palmer, UK) which showed very well indeed in last year’s Fastnet Race.

Thus if the hottest favourites find circumstance turn against them or they slip up in the slightest way, there’s a whole second tier of very competently-sailed boats ready to step into their shoes. And never under-estimate the importance of character in a tricky race like this.

Current Irish “Sailor of the Year” Conor Fogerty of Howth is doing the race on one of these “second tier” craft, co-skippering with Susan Glenny on the First 40 Olympia’s Tigress. Glenny’s main interest has shifted recently, as she has been appointed to head up the Maiden operation, re-commissioning Tracey Edwards’ historic global-racing maxi. But the deal between her and Fogerty to co-skipper in the round Ireland was set up in Antigua after the RORC Caribbean 600 in February, and they’re sticking with it even though Fogerty also has other distractions.

olympias tigress11Susan Glenny and an all-woman crew racing Olympia’s Tigress in the Caribbean

His Sunfast 3600 Bam! – just back from the Caribbean – is undergoing work down Solent way in preparation for the 1800-mile Round Britain Race in August, which he’ll race two-handed with Howth clubmate Simon Knowles. And then just last week, he sailed his pet boat, the 1976 Ron Holland-designed Half Ton World Champion Silver Apple from Howth to Cork and back, mostly single-handed. This was so that he and the historic boat could join the party to celebrate the publication of the designer’s memoirs at the Royal Cork YC in Crosshaven. So Conor Fogerty is either certifiable or he’s the supreme sportsman and enthusiast or maybe he’s all three, but whatever - his involvement in any race in any boat should never be underestimated.

conor and ron12Mad keen on sailing – “Sailor of the Year” Conor Fogerty (left) and international designer Ron Holland (right) with shipmates of old times Dick Gibson and John McWilliam and the Ron Holland-designed 1976 Half Ton World Champion Silver Shamrock in Crosshaven last week to celebrate the publication of Ron Holland’s memoirs. In honour of the occasion, Conor Fogerty sailed Slver Shamrock from Howth to Crosshaven and back mostly single-handed. Photo: Robert Bateman
As the weather forecasts lengthen further into the future, one scenario sees Ireland at the middle of next week in mostly easterly winds while generally, good weather persists. Overall, it is not a picture which is unfavourable to the smallest or the lowest-rated boats, and in these circumstances, one name always comes up on the radar: Cavatina.

The Royal Cork-based Noray 38, campaigned for many years by Eric Lisson and subsequently by Ian Hickey, is an integral part of Round Ireland Race folklore, and her low rating combined with her crew’s ability and determination to keep going and maintain their competitiveness has often been rewarded with success in the past, and it could perfectly well happen again in 2018.

cavatina racing13Ian Hickey’s Cavatina from Crosshaven – the longer the race goes on, the better her overall chances

As for the oldest boat in the fleet, Darryl Hughes’ gaff-rigged ketch Maybird, she’ll find in time that she’s sailing a race of her own. But at least the conditions expected for today’s start will give her the boost of getting fairly quickly away from the start area, following which the crew have been told that, if needs be, they’ll keep going for a fortnight to get back to Wicklow.

At that most hospitable of ports, the club and community effort which goes into making this event and its associated shoreside happenings such a major success is awesome in its level of voluntary enthusiasm and commitment. As Wicklow’s Roisin Hennessy, Chair of the Organising Committee, has put it, anyone and everyone showing a pulse have been drawn into voluntary work of some kind to keep the astonishing show on the road.

And today, the action really starts. The trackers will have an intriguing story to tell as the core narrative of the Volvo Round Ireland Race 2018 gets underway.

maybird sailing14The oldest boat in the race – the superbly-restored classic 1937-built Tyrrell of Arklow ketch Maybird (Darryl Hughes, Arklow SC) has cruised round Ireland a number of times, but this is her first race

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Published in W M Nixon

Last minute changes to the Round Ireland Race fleet means ISORA Champion Mojito (Vicky Cox and Peter Dunlop), a pre-race favourite, are out of tomorrow's race. 

David O'Brien predicts in today's Irish Times Sailing Column that the light winds will favour the proven J109 design, of which North Wales based Mojito, was one of four due to compete.

The latest entry list from Wicklow organisers features a number of amendments as some boats have become unavailable or unable to prepare in time.

The Pwllheli entry is one of five withdrawals. Also out is the Open 50, Pegasus of Northumberland, the Corby 25, Tribal and the Spirit 54, Soufriere and the 'May Contain Nuts' entry.

Originally 60 boats were expected to start but the confirmed entry-list stands at 55 with boats from seven countries - Ireland, Britain, France, The Netherlands, Finland, Norway and the United States.

Glorious conditions for the 55 boats competing in the Volvo Round Ireland Race are expected over the coming week after the 705-mile classic gets underway at Wicklow Sailing Club on Saturday at 2pm.

The Irish Defence Forces will have a big presence at Wicklow including the Naval vessel Ciara in attendance and a display by the Air Corps Black Knight parachute team in the afternoon. A crew of Army and Naval personnel on Joker 2 will compete in the race aiming to lift a new trophy for military teams.

The forecast for the week suggests light, north-easterly winds for the start meaning the colourful spinnaker sails will be used, adding to the spectacle. Wicklow pier and the Black Castle area are ideal viewing areas. Parking and traffic restrictions will be in place.

Speaking this morning, Defence forces navigator and strategist Mick Liddy, foresees the race taking a full 5 days for them on board J109 “Joker II”. “We expect a northeasterly start with good gradient and thermal breeze given the fine conditions and a rhumb line course to the Fastnet Rock where we will encounter up to 20 knots, the most wind we expect to see. Northwest corner looks most challenging and we expect that we are looking at a predominantly light and tactical race”

Boats range in size from 21 feet to 65 feet and the fastest entries are expected back in Wicklow by Wednesday evening. However, some of the smaller entries may not finish until next weekend depending on wind conditions.

A week-long festival is already underway with family-friendly events running from 10am on race start day at Wicklow Harbour leading up the dockside farewells to the fleet before the crews head southwards.

Published in Round Ireland

For most of the Irish sailors who have committed to this year’s 20th staging of the biennial 704-mile Volvo Round Ireland Race on 30th June, it will be the central focus, the core pillar of their 2018 programme. And even though our increasing number of home-grown front-line international professionals might expect to see it as just another fixture in a busy worldwide working sailing year, they find that for anyone Irish, racing round Ireland continues to be something very special writes W M Nixon.

This was the abiding impression which emerged from this week’s decidedly convivial and crowded Round Ireland reception in the Royal Irish Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire. This distinguished and ancient club of significant history has put its considerable muscle behind the much-smaller and more localised Wicklow Sailing Club (which inaugurated the Round Ireland in 1980) for the 2016 and now the 2018 staging of the race. The result has been a mutually beneficial relationship which sees the RIYC in its sheltered location within Dun Laoghaire Marina providing facilities for the larger Round Ireland contenders in the week leading up to the start.

royal irish yacht club2The sheltered and convenient location of the Royal Irish Yacht Club within Dun Laoghaire Marina

But as the actual start approaches, with this year’s scheduled for June 30th, the final days in the count-down see a total shift of focus down the coast to Wicklow, to a Wicklow which is completely en fete and totally in focus for this one event in a way which a large and complex harbour like Dun Laoghaire could never be.

In terms of planning a Round Ireland campaign, with five weeks to go you’re already well into the final stages, but nevertheless, there’s still the chance that some significant “we’ll show ’em” last minute entries might emerge to add to the 54 boats already listed. And as to that total figure, former organiser Theo Phelan – he stood down in the winter after guiding the event successfully to record numbers through the dark days of the economic recession – reckons it will probably be around 50 boats which finally cross the starting line.

costello shannon3The Royal Irish YC’s newly-elected Commodore Joe Costello (left) and Vice Commodore Pat Shannon welcomed the Round Ireland party to their historic clubhouse. Photo: W M Nixon

That’s a very respectable total, as the record fleet of the 2016 staging included the once-off appearance of George David’s Rambler 88, which won just about everything for which she was eligible, while there were also the three MOD 70 trimarans which also established what seemed like unbeatable records until later in the season, when the irrepressible Lloyd Thornburg with his MOD 70 Phaedo had another go, and chipped a little bit more off the time to leave what looks like a record so good it deserves to last.

wsc committee4Wicklow SC’s Round Ireland Committee are (left to right) Hal Fitzgerald (Race Director), Kyran O’Grady (Hon.Treas.), Roisin Hennessy (Chairperson), Denis Cummins (WSC Commodore) and Peter Shearer (Hon. Sec.) Photo VRIYR
In a way, that Round Ireland Race of 2016 was standalone-exceptional, starting with the fact that George David felt honour-bound to do the race out of respect and for thanks after the crew of Rambler 100 were rescued off Baltimore when their keel broke off at the rock during the Fastnet Race of 2011. As for the era of the MOD 70s, that has peaked and gone.

So for 2018 we’re back to a more normal way of things, with a strong international entry which actually well outnumbers the Irish involvement - it is, after all, part of the international RORC Programme, counting for extra points. But nevertheless the inescapable theme of this week’s party was that this was a gathering of Round Ireland aficionados, or as Roisin Hennessy, the Chair of the Organising Committee put it, we had an assembly of Round Ireland virgins, serial offenders, and addicts, and if you were one of their number, the sense of mutual enthusiasm and fellowship filled the place with warm camaraderie.

wilson ohiggins hennessy5Peter Wilson (winner in 1994 and 1998), Paul O’Higgins (winner Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race 2017, Round Ireland entrant 2018) and Roisin Hennessy (Chairperson, Organising Committee.) Photo: W M Nixon
It was a good time to thank the many volunteers – it must be just about every member of Wicklow Sailing Club – who keep this show on the road, and after being welcomed by newly-elected RIYC Commodore Joe Costello, WSC Commodore Denise Cummins and David Thomas of Volvo Car Ireland were rightly effusive in their thanks to these dedicated helpers. And it was also rightly a time to give special thanks to the Race Directors past and present, for we’d three of them there – Dennis Noonan who was Mr Round Ireland for so long, then his successor Theo Phelan, and now former WSC Commodore Hal Fitzgerald.

Hal was candid in admitting that while he had some idea of the sheer quantity of work that his predecessors had undertaken to keep this unique show on the road, it wasn’t until it fell on his shoulders last winter that he got a true appreciation of what was involved - it is not a task to be undertaken lightly.

But it is now something which is built into the Wicklow DNA, so instead of dwelling on the backroom work involved, they generated an atmosphere of mirth and fond memories. Appropriately, there were presentations to Theo Phelan and his wife Orlagh, and Theo used the occasion for fond recollections of something rather special to the finish of the Round Ireland Race – the fact that each finishing boat is saluted by cannon fire regardless of the hour of day or night, or their placing in the race.

theo and orlagh6Theo Phelan and his wife Orlagh – Theo was Race Director for 2012, 2014 and 2016, and was closely involved for several races before 2012. Photo: W M Nixon

The empty cartridge from each cannon firing is then presented to the relevant finishing owner when he comes into the Race Office to sign his declaration, and Theo particularly recalls that great sportsman, France’s Baron Eric de Turckheim, when he came into the office, signed his declaration, and was presented with his cartridge shell. The rugged skipper of the highly successful Teasing Machine – highest placed boat overall after Rambler 88 herself and winner of many trophies – found his eyes welling up with tears. The cartridge meant more to him than all the silver and glassware which would follow in due course.

There were many such stories, for Round Ireland memories abounded, but to give it some focus they’d a panel discussion, moderated by David McHugh, for speakers Michael Boyd – highest-placed Irish entry in 2016 and overall winner in 1996 - Peter Wilson who won in 1994 and has been there or thereabouts in many races since, and journalist Elizabeth Birdthistle who was a complete round Ireland novice when she did the 2016 Race with Ronan O'Siochru of Irish Offshore Sailing in the 36ft Desert Star, and now spoke with eyes gleaming in all the zeal of the total convert.

elizabeth birdthistle7The gleaming eyes of the new enthusiast – Elizabeth Birdthistle talks of her first Round Ireland experience during the panel discussion. Photo: W M Nixon
Peter Wilson is one of those fantastic skipper-helmsmen who somehow smooth a rough sea when you’re slugging to windward, yet can find an extra-helpful wave which no-one else had noticed when looking for that extra quarter knot off the wind. Talking to him before the panel discussion began, I naturally asked what angle he’d be taking, and being a man of few words he said he hadn’t a clue, yet once up there and speaking, his face lit up and he conveyed that special feeling which comes when a boat is in the groove and the going is very good.

Elizabeth Birdthistle brought a fresh perspective which reminded Round Ireland veterans of just what an extraordinary project a first tilt at the circuit can seem to be, and how it profoundly affects your life in the countdown, and continues to do so afterwards.

This was a theme taken up by former RORC Commodore Michael Boyd, who has helped to ensure the Round Ireland Race’s current exalted status. Put at its most simple, he persuasively argued that it was something that any true Irish sailor would like to be able to list in their CV at last once. But then he went beyond that, giving it all an almost spiritual dimension which made you think that in another life he would have made a rather good Abbot of Glenstal.

boyd shearer8A word with the Abbot…….Michael Boyd - winner in 1996 and top Irish entry in 2018 – with Peter Shearer, Hon. Sec. WSC Photo: W M Nixon
For he talked of the special bonds of camaraderie which become enduring friendships after sharing the Round Ireland experience, he talked of the sense of embracing Ireland in a very special way through doing it, and he talked of how the post-race buzz can in some ways last forever in a way that many of us who have done it have thought afterwards, but he managed to put it in an almost poetic style.

Such elevated thoughts were soon being balanced by competitive banter in the lively crowd, with positions being taken as to pre-race favourites, and there’s no doubt that local-boy-made-good Niall Dowling, returning with the hyper-hot Ker 43 Baraka GP, is highly-rated, as he has ace navigator Ian Moore calling the shots, while James Carroll is managing the boat, and Dalkey-based Kiwi star Jared Henderson is also on the strength.

coughlan carroll ogrady9Brendan Coughlan (left) who will be racing his new Sunfast 3600 YoYo (below) in the 2018 Round Ireland, with Jim Carroll of Baraka GP, and WSC Hon Treas. Kyran O’Grady. Photo: W M Nixon

Yoyo Sunfast 3600 0888

baraka gp10The Ker 43 Baraka GP (Niall Dowling) is a much-fancied entry. Photo RORC
But then Dowling’s former shipmate Michael Boyd has teamed up with the Irish National Sailing School’s Kenneth Rumball for a private entry of the school’s highly-tuned J/109 Jedi, and even though the design may now be 14 years old, you’re in a dream world if you under-estimate the race-winning potential of a well-prepared J/109, with Pwllheli’s Vicky Cox and Peter Dunlop with Mojito – Irish Sea champions in 2017 – also out there to give it their very best.

j109 mojito11The very image of a well-trimmed J/109. Mojito (Vicky Cox & Peter Dunlop, Pwllheli SC) in their home waters off Snowdonia

As for their nemesis in last year’s Dun Laoghaire to Dingle race - Rockabill - her owner has signed up the formidable talents of Mark “Mono” Mansfield of Cork, and there’s just something about a JPK 10.80 which can pull off a real success when it’s really needed.

As usual in a fleet of this size, and a Round Ireland fleet at that, there’ll be an element of eccentricities in the entry list, and only Stephen O’Flaherty of Howth and RIYC would dream of racing his modern classic Sprit 54 Soufriere in such an event, particularly if they’d heard Peter Wilson talk eloquently of the experience of running down Ireland’s Atlantic seaboard in 40 knots of wind and more, while people back home on the east coast would be thinking it was just a normal mildly breezy summer’s day.

spirit54 soufriere12Stephen O’Flaherty’s Spirit 54 Soufriere – a very individual choice for a Round Ireland racer

For if there’s one thing a Round Ireland Race teaches you, it’s the exceptionally localised nature of our coastline’s wind strengths, and the way it can test a boat and her crew. I can still remember coming in past Inishtrahull with the most of a Force 9 up our backsides, and yet we knew that the big boats barely a hundred miles ahead down at the Maidens Rocks off Larne were becalmed. Either way, the experience seems at some distance from a cheerful party on a sunlit Spring evening in the time-hallowed surroundings of the Royal Irish Yacht Club.

party in riyc13Party time in the time-hallowed surroundings of the Royal Irish YC – very different indeed from the conditions that may be experienced in racing round Ireland. Photo: W M Nixon
If it becomes a race of frequent calms, then the little fellows will simply have to sit it out and their handicaps will do the rest, but it’s the sheer unpredictability of the Round Ireland which is part of its unique attraction.

Another attraction for those ashore is that the entire starting sequence can be viewed from Wicklow pier. However, when it’s a reaching start, particularly with the wind offshore, the fleet tends to bunch towards the outer end, out at the Guardship, and well away from the pier.

After one such recent start, I happened to meet up with David Lovegrove, then President of the Irish Sailing Association and a noted International Race Officer, and he commented on the fact that the fleet ended up bunching in on the Guardship.

“If I were the Race Officer,” said he, “and we’d offshore wind conditions like this, I’d be very tempted to put a tiny bias in favour of the inner end of the line in order to keep the fleet in towards the pier and give the viewing public their moneysworth….”

lovegrove noonan shearer14David Lovegrove, Race Officer for the Volvo Round Ireland Race 2018, with Dennis Noonan, Race Director for many years until 2010, and Peter Shearer, Hon. Sec. WSC. Photo: W M Nixon
Well, as it happens, there was David Lovegrove at this week’s reception in the RIYC. And for why? Well, as it also happens, for the first time, he is going to be the Race Officer for the Volvo Round Ireland Race on June 30th. Interesting. Very interesting. We’ll certainly all be looking with extra fascination at the way that starting line is laid.

Published in W M Nixon

The Volvo Round Ireland Race 2018 - in just eight weeks time on June 30th from Wicklow - will be marking 20 stagings of this biennial classic. When first raced in 1980, it was with a fleet of very modest numbers, mainly of boats of the day. Thirty-eight years later, you’d expect significant change in any sport - and especially so in a vehicle sport like sailing. In our crazy game, developments in hull design, construction techniques, sail innovation, and rig configuration can see some previously unbeatable craft appear to age very quickly writes W M Nixon.

Yet other boats, thanks to some seemingly timeless basic concept, plus the best uses of the International Rating Certificate and the devotion of a loyal owner and dedicated crew, just keep going on and on and on, almost always in the frame. Thus a fleet like that which will be racing round Ireland will be an extraordinary mixture of newer craft set against decidedly vintage boats, with many coming under some sort of “in between” category.

partizan second2Dawn patrol 1980, with an unforgettable experience many have shared since. It is the finish of the first Round Ireland Race at Wicklow, with Dave FitzGerald’s 40ft Partizan from Galway coming out of the sunrise to place second in line honours. Photo: Afloat Magazine

Paul O’Higgins with the JPK 10.80 Rockabill VI – one of the newer boats - will be spearheading a remarkable Royal Irish Yacht Club group challenge in the 50-plus fleet, in a campaign which he will regard as dealing with unfinished business.

O’Higgins was the November 2017 Afloat.ie “Sailor of the Month” in recognition of his sporting approach to sailing. For even when - as in the annual early winter Turkey Shoot series in Dublin Bay – he is allocated a handicap so fierce that he almost has to be finishing when the other boats are starting if he is to have any chance at all of being in the prizes, nevertheless he still goes out and gives his fine boat a canter round the bay.

Equally, he took part in the Calves Week Regatta in West Cork in August in the right spirit, crewed by family and friends. In this case, though, as he was well away from Dublin Bay, he was able to win prizes too. But earlier in the year, we had seen the more serious side of Paul O’Higgins when he and Rockabill VI shipped aboard some seriously heavy hitters for June’s Volvo Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race, and they won going away.

rockabill dingle race3Paul O’Higgins’ JPK 10.80 Rockabill VI (RIYC) in pre-start manoeuvres before the Volvo Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race 2017, which she won overall. Photo: W M Nixon and below in this season's first ISORA race from Dun Laoghaire. Photo: Afloat.ie

Rockabill ISORA

It was his most notable major win to date. When the boat was still fresh out of the package in June 2016, it had looked as though Rockabill VI had her class neatly stitched up in the Volvo Round Ireland Race. But they hit one of those spooky localised calms in which this 704-mile classic seems to specialise, and sat going nowhere just east of Inishtrahull for three hours, while Dave Cullen from Howth YC and his merry men were making hay up the west coast of Donegal with the J/109 Euro Car Parks in a new wind, and this swept them into the class win that they held to the end.

The two crews socialized together mightily in Wicklow Sailing Club at the finish. But since then an interesting development has shown that Paul O’Higgins is seriously keen to take the Round Ireland trophy in 2018. The word was soon out on the waterfront that Mark “Mono” Mansfield of Cork, one of the key players in Euro Car Parks’ Round Ireland win, would definitely be doing the next race - but this time it would be aboard Rockabill VI.

Mark Mansfield prof oconnell 1190Mark Mansfield and “Prof’ O’Connell squeezing the last ounce of speed out of the J/109 EuroCarParks in the Volvo Round Ireland Race 2016, in which they were the only Irish boat to record a class win. Mansfield is doing this year’s race aboard the JPK 1080 Rockabill VI. Photo: Afloat.ie

However, having past winners on board in the RIYC group effort Round Ireland goes well beyond Rockabill VI’s battle-hardened crew. The top Irish boat overall in the 2016 race was the First 44.7 Lisa skippered by Michael Boyd RIYC. As revealed here last week, he’ll be back in 2018, but this time with the J/109 Jedi chartered from the Irish National Sailing School, with school principal Kenny Rumball (incidentally also RIYC) part of a very complete package. And of course Boyd has further Round Ireland form going right back to 1996, when he won overall with the J/35 Big Ears.

Referring back to the Afloat magazine of August 1996 which reported that race (and God be with the days of leisurely deadlines set by periodical printing dates), we find that the entire crew of Big Ears were jointly the Afloat “Sailors of the Month” for August 1996, and they were Michael Boyd, Jamie Boag, Patsy Burke, Brian Mehigan, P J Kennedy, Tim Greenwood and Michael Moloney.

But perhaps most importantly, the citation also includes Niall Dowling, who was responsible for getting the boat race-prepared at the Royal Irish Yacht Club. He has spread his wings more than somewhat since, and is a major force in Solent sailing, such that he and Michael Boyd teamed up to make Quokka 8 available as the “Steady Eddy” third boat in the winning Irish Commodore’s Cup Team in 2012.

And for 2018, Niall Dowling is back in the Round Ireland scene, but this time with the Ker 43 Baraka GP, which was formerly the highy-successful New Zealand-built American-owned Otra Vez.

baraka gp5The New Zealand-built Ker 43 in her days as Otra Vez. Now known as Baraka GP, she has been entered for the Volvo Round Ireland Race 2018 by Niall Dowling (RIYC)

The fact that since 2016 there has been a linkup between Wicklow Sailing Club and the Royal Irish YC, whereby the latter offers hospitality to Round Ireland entrants in the week before the race, is the ideal package for boats like Baraka GP, as she can be safely kept in what is arguably the best berth on the east coast of Ireland before sallying down to Wicklow for the start.

fleet at riyc6For the Volvo Round Ireland Race of 2016, before locating to Wicklow for the start, many of the boats assembled at the Royal Irish YC in Dun Laoghaire. Photo: Afloat.ie

But as several seasoned round Ireland campaigners have readily argued, Wicklow is the only place from where the race should start. Not only did the Wicklow club set it all up in the first place so many years ago, but they have stuck doggedly with it since through thick and thin, and the entire town is in the Round Ireland mood as the start approaches. Equally important, no matter how little wind there is, the sluicing ebb out past Wicklow Head soon moves the fleet on its way, whereas a Dun Laoghaire start would find itself competing for space with the intricate Dublin Bay sailing scene, and maybe going nowhere very fast.

2002 round ireland start7It’s 2002, and we’re having the classic Round Ireland start, with the fleet nervily away from the Naval Service Guardship, and every prospect of some rugged windward work when they reach the south coast

That said, in the week beforehand, the growing excitement at the RIYC’s unrivalled totally-sheltered waterfront location is part of an extraordinary ongoing saga which concludes with crews savouring the unique post-finish atmosphere in Wicklow SC – undoubtedly one of the world’s best decompression chambers.

It can become so congenial that we’ve done the circuit with a noted skipper on an 83ft Maxi, and then, having celebrated our finish, we’ve taken our leave of ship and crew with the words of the skipper ringing in our ears, that he too must soon hasten away with the boat to get back to her home port…… Yet a day or two later, we hear that they haven’t gone away you know - the après sailing still goes merrily along in Wicklow Sailing Club. It’s something very special.

rambler 88 trophy wicklow8When George David’s Rambler 88 took undisputed mono-hull line honours in the Volvo Round Ireland Race 2018, they were able to present him (fourth from right) with the trophy immediately at an impromptu on-board ceremony off the Wicklow pierhead, but they’d to wait a day or two before he could be declared corrected time winner as well. Photo Volvo Round Ireland

Naturally, there are those who’ll say we’ll never again reach the heights of 2016, when George David’s glorious Rambler 88 set the pace for both line honours and the overall corrected time win, while the three 70ft MOD trimarans battled to the very end – and we mean the very end – to be first to finish and set a new round Ireland record.

But Race Officer Hal Fitzgerald of WSC tells us that in terms of solid genuine IRC entries representing Europe’s core offshore racing fleet, they’re actually ahead of the 2016 listing. And while the biggest boat may be “only” 65ft (she’s Richard Loftus’s keenly-campaigned vintage Swan 65 Desperado) there are interesting developments taking place at the other end of the size spectrum.

hal fitzgerald9Race officer Hal Fitzgerald reckons the core IRC entry shows an increase on 2016

loftus desperado10The stylish vintage Sparkman & Stephens-designed Swan 65 ketch Desperado (Richard Loftus) is doing the race again, and this time she’s the biggest boat in the fleet

Sailmaker Yannick Lemonnier of WestSails.ie in Galway makes no secret of his enthusiasm for the MiniTransat 650 boat concept, and last year he persuaded the Volvo Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race organisers to permit three Irish-based MiniTransat boats to sail along with the fleet as a sort of associate entries.

Let it be said that they were by no means at the back of the bunch when they finished, as they set as much sail as your average 30-footer, and their crews are hyper-keen. But in order to attract attention from the main MiniTransat fleet heartlands in France, Lemonnier reckons that it’s the Round Ireland Race which has the real magic ingredient, and his enthusiasm has persuaded the Committee to include an “Associate Division” for two-handed MiniTransat boats, and they’ll be allowed to start with the main body of the fleet.

mini transats d2d11Unexpected guests? The three MiniTransat 650s at the National YC pontoons before the start of the Volvo Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race 2017, in which they sailed as an “Associate Division”. The same arrangement is in place for the Volvo Round Ireland Race 2018. Photo: W M Nixon

This latest twist in the story of a great race will in time become part of its mythology, which goes right back to that first race of 1980, when Johnny Morris of Pwllheli with the High Tension 36 Force Tension took line honours clear ahead of Dave Fitzgerald’s 40ft Partizan from Galway, with the IOR winner being the late Jim Poole’s Half Tonner Feanor.

But the “real” winner, under a handicap system set up by Wicklow SC to attract boats which mightn’t normally contemplate cut-throat offshore racing, was Brian Coad’s plump Rival 34 Raasay from Waterford, beginning a Coad-Round Ireland partnership which went on for years.

1980 round ireland start12Pre-start manoeuvres for the first Round Ireland Race from Wicklow in 1980. Under the special WSC Round Ireland Handicap System, the overall winner was declared to be Waterford’s Brian Coad with the Rival 34 Raasay (right), but under IOR the winner was the late Jim Poole’s Nicholson Half Tonner Feanor. Photo: W M Nixon

And it was with the 1982 race that we realised the Round Ireland had really arrived. The great Denis Doyle turned up from Cork with the almost-new Frers 51 Moonduster, already the undisputed Queen of the Irish offshore fleet and an international star in European waters in RORC racing. The Doyle seal of approval was the making of the Round Ireland race, and he was always there on the start line until the end of his days - he kept the lovely Moonduster for an exceptionally long time.

moonduster 1982 round Ireland13A big swell running from the northeast as Denis Doyle’s Moonduster approaches the Wicklow finish line in his ground-breaking first participation in the race in 1982

moonduster 1984 round Ireland14It is 1984, and Moonduster is on her way to establishing a long-standing Round Ireland Record with Neil Hegarty on the helm, Brendan Fogarty in foreground, and the Fastnet Rock being very quickly put astern on the horizon

The pace of his involvement was top level from the start. He set a course record which looked pretty unbeatable in 1982, but then promptly bested it in an extraordinary circuit in 1984, going at such a pace that, as navigator John Bourke neatly put it, “we were seeing off an entire Irish county in every watch”.

Since then other names have become a leading part of the story, people like Eric Lisson from Cork with Cavatina and Peter Wilson with Bridgestone and Dickie Gomes from the north with a variety of boats called Woodchester and Eamonn Crosbie from Dun Laoghaire with boats of small comfort but high speed, while Colm Barrington showed us what could be done with a Volvo racer as the race developed such that it is now an integral part of the Royal Ocean Racing Club calendar and points system.

In fact, a gathering of the Round Ireland veterans from down the years who are still happily with us would make for an extraordinary assembly. But perhaps it’s better left to the imagination – these things can get out of hand. Way back in 1972, it was decided to hold an Irish Fastneteers Dinner for everyone who had ever done the RORC Fastnet Race on an Irish boat. It was a spectacular social success, an unrivalled reunion. But anyone who claims to remember it clearly very evidently wasn’t there, as it was that kind of party - the sort of tearaway memory-blocking affair you used to get back in the days before health warnings about safe units of personal alcohol consumption curbed things more than somewhat.

wicklow harbour start day15The tension is building – Wicklow Harbour in pre-start mode on Round Ireland Day. Photo: W M Nixon

And in any case, it’s much healthier to live in the present and anticipate the near future, which is what the up-coming Volvo Round Ireland Race is all about. The fleet will range between Desperado at the top end (unless somebody is planning to spring a last-minute very big boat surprise, which wouldn’t really surprise us at all) and the MiniTransat “unofficials” at the other end, with mostly boats between 35 and 55ft in between. The one which has won most is probably Cavatina, while the oldest must be Darryl Hughes’ restored classic 43ft 1937-built (at Arklow) gaff ketch Maybird.

Maybird Daryl hughesThe 1937 Arklow-built gaff ketch Maybird (Darryl Hughes) is the oldest entry

On many boats, there’ll be people doing their first Round Ireland. There really is nothing quite like it. Unless you’re a professional and the pre-race display routine is part of the job, it has to be said that Wicklow Harbour in the hours leading up to the start is a nervy and over-crowded place, and secretly you wish the fleet could be allowed to start at one minute intervals in the dark, with no attention whatever.

But then after you’ve sailed at least 704 miles along one of the greatest coastlines in the world, a completely new Wicklow appears ahead. Ideally, it would be a summery mid-afternoon with the Wicklow Hills looking their very best. You close in for the finish and find you’ve done well enough to be in the frame, even if Michael Horgan and Peter Ryan have gone well enough to grab the class lead.

wicklow sailing club aerial17Wicklow Sailing Club in the summertime – immediately after you’ve finished the Volvo Round Ireland Race, it is the most effective de-compression chamber in the world

Wicklow SC is in best decompression chamber mode, with welcome showers and pints and much banter and laughter. And then your son, who has raced round Ireland with you, makes it quite clear that you and your oldie mates are now superfluous to requirements - he and his pals will take the boat back to Howth in due course. So his mother appears as though by magic, and takes you up into the Wicklow Hills for a leisurely feed of the best Irish stew at the Roundwood Inn as the sun slowly works its way towards setting in sublime style. And all is very well with the world.

Volvo Round Ireland Race 2018 Entry List here

Published in W M Nixon

As entries continue to grow for the 2018 Round Ireland Yacht race, with 30 boats currently entered, Wicklow Sailing Club have announced a new trophy/category for the 2018 race – yet to be named – to recognise the best armed forces entry.

Military teams have always had a strong connection with the race and this decision by Wicklow Sailing Club to announce a new trophy for this category recognises that strong contribution throughout the years as do similar trophies in other offshore races such as the Fastnet race and the Beaufort Cup.

The newly announced trophy will attract interest and bolster the profile of the race within armed forces all across Europe, where offshore sailing is recognised as an invaluable teambuilding and leadership development platform. The close proximity of the Volvo Round Ireland to the hugely successful Beaufort Cup, held as part of Volvo Cork Week, means military teams travelling to Ireland can do both events very cost effectively.

With 15 weeks until the race starts on 30th June 2018, Wicklow Sailing Club is looking forward to welcoming competitors and supporters to the event and to what promises to be a true celebration of sailing.

Early bird entries closing date is 30th March. Enter online at www.roundireland.ie and join us at Wicklow Sailing Club for the 20th staging of the race.

Published in Round Ireland

It’s the end of an era. Theo Phelan of Wicklow, who has been intimately involved with the organsation of the biennial Round Ireland Race since 2008, has stood down from his demanding and time-consuming position after ten years in roles of increasing responsibility with the race organisation writes W M Nixon.

During those years as he progressed towards being Race Organiser for 2012, 2014 and 2016, he guided the classic event as it survived decline in the grim post-recession years, and brought it to new strength as the records-breaking Volvo Round Ireland Race of 2016. Always mindful of the need to make the following of the race a more accessible experience, he introduced Race Trackers with such determination that it is believed the Round Ireland was the first mainstream race to make them mandatory.

He also strengthened the links with the Royal Ocean Racing Club to consolidate the Round Ireland’s position in the international calendar, and he developed Wicklow Sailing Club’s co-ordination with the Royal Irish Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire in order to provide the largest boats with a suitable pre-race base.

Speaking to Afloat.ie today, Wicklow SC Honorary Secretary Peter Shearer – himself a longtime member of the Round Ireland Organising Committee – praised Theo Phelan’s dedicated contribution: “It was mainly thanks to Theo Phelan’s determination and dedication that we saw our core event become the hyper-successful Volvo Round Ireland Race 2016. It was a remarkable story of success”.

Published in Round Ireland

The Atlantic Anniversary Regatta is the first ever regatta series with two Atlantic Ocean races in both directions. Celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Norddeutscher Regatta Verein (NRV), based in Hamburg, Germany. The first part of this extraordinary series was completed in December 2017 with the 2017 RORC Transatlantic Race from Lanzarote to Grenada. The final part of the race series will see the fleet race 3500 nautical miles from Bermuda to Hamburg, starting on 8th July 2018 and it looks like top two sailors in the 2016 Round Ireland Race are favourties in the Anniversary Race too. 

For the Bermuda to Hamburg race, George David's American Maxi Rambler 88, is the hot favourite for line honours but his Wicklow challenger from two years ago, Eric de Turckheim in a new 54ft  Teasing Machine will also be in contention.

“The great attraction is to be racing on the ocean for so many days, and we have had good results rewarding our efforts, including two records and three fleet firsts.” Commented George David. “The NRV was the host club for Rambler 90s first transatlantic in 2007, and the club set a high bar for organization and hospitality, and we are confident of the same in 2018. The big challenge is keeping the boat together while still going fast. The best advice I can give newcomers to the race; be totally prepared for anything that may happen and sail safely.”

In three different yachts, all called Rambler, George David has raced west to east across the Atlantic on three occasions. In 2007, Rambler 90 took line honours in the HSH Nordbank Transatlantic (11d 16h 13m 59s). In 2011, Rambler 100 took line honours in the Transatlantic Race, establishing a race record (6d 22h 08m 2s). In 2015 Rambler 88 completed the Transatlantic Race winning IRC One (7d 16h 54m 46s). This will be George David's sixth transatlantic race in both directions.

Over 30 teams have expressed their interest to race from Bermuda to Hamburg, competing for Line Honours and under the IRC, ORC and ORCsy rating systems as well as one design Classes like IMOCA and Class 40. Confirmed entries include top performers from the 2017 RORC Transatlantic Race: Overall winner, Eric de Turckheim's Teasing Machine. Winner of the ORC Division, Outsider skippered by Dr. Harald Brüning. Winner of IRC One, Hamburgische Verein Seefahrt's Broader View Hamburg, and winner of the Class40 Division, Mathias Müller von Blumencron's Red.

Published in Offshore

The Volvo Round Ireland Yacht Race 2018, run by Wicklow Sailing Club, is a little over 5 months away and is expecting a strong turn out with very positive interest from the off-shore sailing community in Ireland, the UK and mainland Europe.

2018 marks the 40th year anniversary of the biennial race, renowned for being one of the most gruelling offshore races in the global calendar. The race starts on Saturday June 30th at 14.00 from Wicklow and leaves ‘Ireland and all its islands, excluding Rockall to starboard’, and is approximately 704 nautical miles.

It is the second longest race in the Royal Ocean Racing Club calendar and has grown strongly since the first race took place in 1980 with only thirteen boats. This sustained development and growth of the race is largely due to the passion of Wicklow Sailing Club, supported by the continued investment of Volvo in sailing in Ireland.

As part of Volvo’s sponsorship of the race, they are rewarding the registered entrant who accumulates the best overall points result across the three Volvo Round Ireland races 2016, 2018 and 2020, with a brand new Volvo V40!

The current monohull race record is held by George David in Rambler 88 who completed the course in 50 hours 24 minutes and 9 seconds in 2016. And the course record is held by the Sultanate of Oman’s flagship trimaran Musandam-Oman Sail of 38 hours 37 minutes and 7 seconds in that same 2016 race.

Looking ahead to the 2018 race, David Thomas – MD Volvo Cars Ireland, “Volvo Car Ireland are delighted to return to Wicklow for the 2018 Volvo Round Ireland Race. This is the third year that Volvo have been associated with this fantastic offshore race. At Volvo Cars, everything we do begins with people, from our commitment to safety to innovation. We like to support what we see as important events in the community where our customers live, work and engage in sporting activities as a central part of life.”

Commenting at the launch event, Theo Phelan – Race Director Wicklow Sailing Club, “For the twentieth time WSC will extend a warm welcome this year to the fleet of entries to the Volvo Round Ireland. You are the race, and without your participation our volunteers labour in vain. It is your commitment to competing in the Volvo Round Ireland that opens the door of the race office and keeps it open until you are all safely back. The partnering with RORC to help administer and advise on the race is but one of the steps we have taken to streamline your participation in this great race.

A big “Thank You” to all who support our organisation in undertaking the management of the race with a special thanks to our title sponsor Volvo, the Royal Irish Yacht Club, my fellow Wicklow Sailing Club committee members and the technical team of the RORC, who have unfailingly supported the race office administration”

Published in Round Ireland

Wicklow Sailing Club are best-known as the big-hearted little organisation which keeps the iconic Volvo Round Ireland Race show on the road with such style that it is now one of Europe’s premier events, with a stellar international entry list of 63 boats – many of them world famous - in June 2016. But where some other smaller clubs might find their own members’ sailing activities distorted or diminished through the voluntary organisational effort which is required to keep a biennial mega-event on this scale running smoothly, in Wicklow the reverse is true writes W M Nixon.

The big race – at 704 miles it is nearly a hundred miles longer than the other classics such as the Fastnet, the Sydney-Hobart, the Caribbean 600, the Bermuda Race and the Middle Sea Race – is run with the full co-operation of the RORC, and back-up support from the Royal Irish YC in Dun Laoghaire. Yet in Wicklow the club spirit is such that not only are there volunteers ready and willing to provide further assistance to key personnel such as the Volvo Round Ireland Race Organiser Theo Phelan and his team, but there is ample evidence that this high level of voluntary effort spreads into every corner of club activity. This is particularly the case with a thriving junior training and racing programme, in which the leading figures have been Dave Ballesty and Mark Redmond.

wicklow harbourWicklow is a busy and colourful place on the morning of the Round Ireland start. Photo: W M Nixon

wicklow harbourWicklow in a different mood, as it might be seen while cruising, with a couple of visiting yachts in port including a pretty little schooner, and the Wicklow SC junior training squad heading back towards the club after a day’s instruction afloat. Photo Mike Harper

wick low18En fete for the Round Ireland, with the Royal Irish YC burgee discreetly beside Wicklow’s own flags to indicate the support of one of Ireland’s premier clubs. Photo: W M Nixon

Anyone who has been in Wicklow for the impressive, crowded and colourful Seafest which is clustered around the Volvo Round Ireland Race start at the midsummer weekend will have naturally tended to assume that, after the big event has been tidied up and its week of long-distance racing rounded out with the Friday night prize-giving, Wicklow sailing takes a well-earned rest.

Not so. The Round Ireland tents are folded away, and the real Wicklow, la Wicklow profonde, will have emerged within days. Toppers, Lasers, Picos and other two-handed dinghies will flock seaward for training, accompanied by busy instructor RIBS zooming about to encourage yet another new generation into proper sailing in a club which has produced notable sailors on the national and international scene such as Round Britain and Ireland two-Handed winner Brian Flahive, Commandant Barry Byrne the winning Skipper of the inaugural Beaufort Cup at Volvo Cork Week in 2016, award-winning international cruising man Alan Rountree who self-built – to an immaculate level – his much-travelled 34ft sloop Tallulah, and the popular Charlie Kavanagh, whose abilities as a seaman and sailing teacher are deservedly renowned.

wick low18Wicklow SC’s fleet of cruisers moored in the Outer Harbour. Photo: W M Nixon

wick low18Wicklow cruisers in action for a club race, WSC has produced several sailors of national renown

But being Wicklow, these kids coming up through a club which has been producing distinguished sailors since its foundation in 1950 will have voluntarism in their genes. Wicklow SC has only around 160 members, of whom barely a hundred are full adult members. Yet not only most of the adults, but many of the young people too, see voluntary work for the club - both in keeping its activities at a high level while maintaining its fabric and the fleet of club-owned training boats in proper order – as part of the Wicklow way of doing things. And of course among all sailing folk, whether racing or cruising, dinghy or offshore, Wicklow Sailing Club is a byword for hospitality and making newcomers welcome to our sport.

wick low18Getting them started. Guidance and instruction from Dave Ballesty for a group of junior trainees.

wick low18An unexpected bit of colour co-ordination for Wicklow’s famous lighthouse and the local Topper fleet

wick low18Lasers racing at Wicklow over the same waters where the Volvo Round Ireland start is staged, and where the finish is fought out

wick low18Wicklow Harbour seen from the southeast. It takes ingenuity and dedication to run a successful sailing club in what is essentially a busy small commercial port

With a thriving club life, it also plays a key role in its local community. Yet at the same time, every two years since 1980 it has organised the Round Ireland Race. And though there have been years when the entry has been thin enough, in 2016 everything came together with glorious success for a club which simply never gave up on the idea that a proper Round Ireland Race was central to the entire Irish sailing scene.

To say that the race organisers down the years since 1980 have beavered away behind the scenes to keep the show on the road only hints at the effort sometimes required to enable an event of this stature to fulfill its true potential. But since 2012, current organizer Theo Phelan has been working with a special statesmanlike dedication – some would call it Machiavellian skill – to raise the event onto a new plane. By 2016, with the full support of the RORC and its Irish Commodore Michael Boyd, together with the discreet assistance of the Royal Irish Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire in order to provide a pre-race base for larger yachts, and the added involvement of superstar multi-hulls to make full use of a package which now included sponsorship from Volvo Car Ireland, the Round Ireland Race came of age and entered the big boys league.

wick low18Spreading the support base. Round Ireland Race organiser Theo Phelan (left) with Wicklow TD Andrew Doyle, and Jim Horan, Commodore of the Royal Irish Yacht Club

Yet this all was done from one tiny club in a workaday commercial and country town whose small port has a very strong commercial bias. But when something is functioning as perfectly as Wicklow Sailing Club and the Volvo Round Ireland Race in 2016, perhaps it’s better not to dissect it all in too much detail. You might break the magic spell. So instead, we’ll just try and tell you who does what, and hope the story speaks for itself.

wick low18 In addition to its major role in sailing, Wicklow SC is very much a community focus with an emphasis on family life – this is a Games Night for all ages in the Clubhouse

Wicklow Sailing Club has learned to live with the biennial appearance of the big one by ensuring that the Commodore’s two year term sees that the Round Ireland Race – which has to be in a non-Fastnet year – will be happening in the second year of office, when he or she is well settled into the top role. But even this was something which had to be learned, and the club is eternally grateful to a former Commodore Johnny Johnson, who gallantly served three years in order to get the sequence right.

Sadie Phelan Peter ShearerTwo people who have given long and valuable service to Wicklow SC are Sadie Phelan (President 2016), and former Commodore Peter Shearer, who chaired the organising committee for the Volvo Round Ireland Race 2016. Photo: W M Nixon

wick low18Round Britain & Ireland Two-handed Winners Liam Coyne & Brian Flahive were conferred with Honorary Membership of Wicklow SC – (left to right) Liam Coyne, WSC Commodore Hal Fitzgerald, President Sadie Phelan, and Brian Flahive.

However, when you’re drawing on such a small membership, the succession has to be carefully planned to make best use of the limited pool of talent, and when Wicklow Sailing Club’s officer and committee board underwent its usual total biennial change just ten days ago, Hal Fitzgerald stood down after his two year term as Commodore to be succeeded by Denise Cummins, who had been Honorary Secretary and thus will be tuned to every nuance of club life and administration when the Volvo Round Ireland Race 2018 comes roaring over the horizon.

Last year’s full list gives an idea of the many talents needed to keep any club operating smoothly:

Wicklow Sailing Club - 2016

Officers, General Committee and Sub-committees

President: Sadie Phelan
Commodore: Hal Fitzgerald
Vice-Commodore: Brian Malone (Lead for Try Sailing - Cruisers)
Rear Commodore Sailing: David Ryan (lead for Berthing Round Ireland)
Rear Commodore House: Gerry Nolan (Long standing, long serving member, came to cruisers after many years on the GP 14 circuit)
Hon. Treasurer: Fergus Somers (Lead for Finance Ctte)
Hon. Secretary: Denise Cummins
Membership Secretary: Joanne Logan (& Finance Ctte)

General Committee:
Dave Ballesty (ISA Training Centre Principal, Try Sailing – Dinghies, & lots of other work), Eugene Lynch (Communications & VRIYR Official Race Programme), Roisin Hennessy (Lead for Dinghies), Paul Hennessy, Kyran O Grady (Lead for boat maintenance & house fabric), Peter Shearer, Angela Higgins (Ballesy) (Lead for Grants & Club Development).

Volvo Round Ireland Yacht Race Organising Committee:
Chair & Secretary: Peter Shearer
Race Organiser: Theo Phelan
Asst Race Organiser: David Ryan
Commodore ex officio: Hal Fitzgerald

Volvo Round Ireland Yacht Race Catering Committee:
Sandra Fitzgerald, Liam Whitty, Paul Hennessy PLUS many, many volunteers, particularly those who fed the returning boats.

ISA Training Centre Principal: Dave Ballesty, assisted by Mark Redmond and Roisin Hennessy

However, in a club of this size it would be very counter-productive if people insisted on a clear job description, and stuck rigidly to their own interpretation of the brief. A delicate balance has to be drawn and maintained between recognizing who is ultimately responsible for some task, yet being prepared to leap in to do the job or at least assist with it during periods of particular stress.

And of course in a town like Wicklow – which mercifully is just far enough from Dublin to be its own place, healthily clear of rigid metropolitan attitudes – there’s interest in how people spend their time in their day jobs, and the lineup keeping the Wicklow SC machine moving along includes the talents of one of Ireland’s leading thatchers, Kyran O’Grady, who in 2017 takes on the additional role of Honorary Treasurer, whole another key figure is David “Farmer” Ryan who organised the participation of the Volvo 70 Monster Project in the 2014 Race, and is getting his sailing off to an early start this year with participation in the RORC Caribbean 600 in February.

As for the season of 2016, everyone will be well aware that in the Volvo Round Ireland Race for mono-hulls, the overall winner, line honours winner and establisher of a new record was George David with Rambler 88, while the multihull winner – by a matter of seconds – was Oman Sailing (Sydney Gavignet), which also established a new record.

wick low18Theo Phelan and RORC Commodore Michael Boyd immediately after the latter had taken third place overall in the Volvo Round Ireland Race 2016.

But for aficionados, perhaps the most popular prize was what might be called the Corinthian Award, which doesn’t actually exist, but if it did who would have gone to RORC Commodore Michael Boyd who took third overall in the standard First 44.7 Lisa after sailing a virtually faultless race, a race which incidentally he won overall in 1996, racing the J/35 Big Ears.

wick low18Jason Moran with his 2016 club trophies won with his Hydro 20 Hydrogin
Once it was all over, Wicklow life resumed, and local racing saw Jason Moran with the David Thomas-designed Hyrdo 28 Hydrogin win the cruiser classes, while the dinghy events were dominated by the annual Junior Regatta which produced a wide spread of results, and here’s a photo of the winners:

wicklow sailing club regattaWinners at the 2016 WSC Junior Regatta were (alphabetically) Cillian Ballesty. James Beattie Doyle, Ryan Fitzgerald, Charles Heather, Rick Johnson, Isobel O’Grady, and “a visitor from Courtown Sailing Club”.

Wicklow Sailing Club last won the “Club of the Year” award in 1979. In those pre-Round Ireland days, they were experimenting with events which would make sailing more accessible, and Irish ports more welcoming, to sailors from elsewhere. So they staged a sort of cruising rally open to absolutely everything which floated, and from anywhere, and it worked very well to be the highlight of a busy season for a club which was starting to find its feet.

They’ve certainly found their feet very well indeed now. The entire Irish sailing community owes a mountain of gratitude to Wicklow Sailing Club for never losing the faith on the Round Ireland race, and bringing it to its present eminence through sheer dogged persistence, and an awesome amount of hard work, nearly all of it voluntary. They become the very worthy Mitsubishi Motors “Sailing Club of the Year” 2017.

Junior sailing Instructors It is not generally known that Wicklow is in a unique micro-climate where sub-tropical conditions are frequently experienced, and Junior Instructors have to take special steps to protect themselves from the sun’s rays.

Published in W M Nixon

While the Volvo Round Ireland Race 2016 was the most international ever seen, some of the keenest racing was among the Irish boats in a fleet of such quality that just to secure a class win was to have made an outstanding achievement.

In the end, while there were many Irish boats which were there or thereabouts in their respective classes, there was only one class winner from Ireland. And that was Dave Cullen of Howth racing the chartered J/109 Euro Car Parks.

Although he has raced round Ireland in a Half Tonner in times past, the enthusiastic Cullen reckoned that for today’s fleets, a J/109 offers a better proposition. So he left his lavishly-maintained Half Tonner Checkmate at home, and put his usual eclectic crew of all the talents aboard the chartered J/109 which became Euro Car Parks.

Yet despite the very evident sponsorship, this was by no means a “no expenses spared” campaign. It was run on a tight budget, and it relied on the talents of such as Mark Mansfield and Maurice “Prof” O’Connell in the crew to bring the boat home on time.

And it was a mighty test of character. They weren’t well placed passing the Tuskar, but in the harsh slug along the south coast, Euro Car Parks crew sailed like men possessed, and by the time they were approaching the Fastnet, all the other J/109s were nowhere, relatively speaking.

But there were many other boats in the fleet and in Class 3 to give them a hard time, and the second setback came off the mouth of Bantry Bay early on the Monday morning. The good winds had moved a few miles further north, and Euro Car Parks found herself headed inside Dursey Head, requiring a painful beat in a lumpy sea to get back on track.

By that time their most significant class rival, Paul O’Higgins’ new higher-rated JPK 10.80 Rockabill VI, was making such good progress up the west coast that she rounded Tory Island forty miles ahead of Euro Car Parks. Yet the Cullen crew never slackened the pace, and when a localized calm at Inishtrahull stopped Rockabill VI for an excruciating three hours, the J/109 kept up the pressure, going from being far astern to relatively close astern by the time Rockabill got going again.

For the smaller craft, the rest of the race was torture, as the big winds which had sent the leaders and larger craft round at such speed were now fading, and the final agony was a period of calm eastward of Drogheda on the Wednesday evening. Yet they kept going, they were in the hunt and at the finish for Class 3 on IRC it was Euro Car Parks first, Rockabill VI second, and Conor Fogerty’s Sunfast 3600 Bam! third, making Dave Cullen our Afloat.ie Sailor of the Month for June 2016.

dave cullenThe J/109 Euro Car Parks settling down shortly after the start of the Volvo Round Ireland Race 2016. This was by no means a “no expenses spared” campaign, yet at the finish they were the only Irish boat to get a class win. Photo: W M NixonRead: David Cullen's own account of his 2016 Round Ireland race

Published in Sailor of the Month
Page 4 of 12

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